We know the image. A cozy house with windows glowing in warmth. Inside, there is a joyous celebration filled with music, dance, and laughter. Everyone inside is engaged in lively discussions that meld a medley of subject matters. With drink in hand and an endless supply of food on the table, the song of the festivity spills into the outside air as it wafts along the gentle breezes. And there, just outside that cozy little house. Sits a lonely soul. Is it a lack of invitation? Or perhaps this the result of a lack of courage. For whatever the reason, this soul cannot go in, and instead lives a life on the outside with so much waiting and wanting that the loneliness becomes as plain as the leaves rustling on the sidewalk beneath her feet.
For much of my young adult life, I always found myself trying to fit in. But in most cases, I was the friend of a friend – a third wheel. Connections happened all around, but I became merely a spectator sport for me. I awkwardly tried to join in a group discussion, and suddenly had nothing relevant to say. Other times, when I felt brave, I would slide in a witty or humorous line here and there and sometimes it scored me a laugh and some validation for existence. And sometimes not. On those nights I found myself at home, I would replay scenes out of a movie in my head: girls nights out, laughter and lively conversation, or even just gathering to watch an old movie in pajama pants and soft socks, drinking hot cocoa while we stayed up chatting into the wee hours of the morning. I would fall asleep dreaming of such wonderful things, covering up the gaping hole in my very being.
I’ve experienced friends coming and going, and though I had fun time, I longed for something more. Something deeper. All my life I hoped for a friend that would be there for me. One that would be MY friend – not just someone I knew. One that would come, and never go. One that understood how difficult life could be, but still wanted to have fun in it all. A friend that I could chat with and would just “get me” without me having to go into much detail. I started to wonder if that was just too much to ask. I began to think I didn’t deserve someone like that.
But not long after my 21st birthday, I was introduced to another friend of a friend. This time, however, it happened that he was looking for someone, too. We instantly connected and in my gut, I knew from that very first date that he was “The One.” Thankfully, he felt the same way, and we were married five years later. Not long after, our son was born, and I found myself thrust into adulthood. The bliss of courtship, engagement, marriage, and now a new child gave way to the anxiety of my reality. The exhaustion of motherhood magnified every emotion in my soul. And while there was tremendous love found in my relationship with my husband and son, the hole in my heart began to make itself known once more.
I couldn’t figure out why, when I was supposed to feel so complete, I could only feel completely alone. As if something was still missing.
I remember trying to go back to church not long after my husband, who was still my boyfriend at the time, and I moved in together. There was a Catholic church down the street from our condo, and I figured I could just slip back into the routine. And so I did. I went to church. I sat alone on the pew. (My husband had grown up going to a Lutheran church, and he was not comfortable coming with me to church. So I went when he was at work.) I sang the hymns. I prayed the prayers. But this time, when the homily came around, I didn’t doze off, like I often did as a child. Rather, I really wanted to hear how the priest could explain the Gospel. How was the words in the Bible relevant to my life today? I found I favored the words of one priest over the other. I found I was interested in “fixing” my life, so maybe I could go back to this God that I had once known. But that meant confessing. And confessing meant telling a priest that I was angry at and had walked away from God. It meant recognizing that I was living in sin. It meant that I still wasn’t a “good girl” and therefore had no place in this church. So after a couple of months, I walked out of my last Sunday Mass and never went back.
The birth of our son a year or so later, however, would be a turning point in what I knew about God. Even though I didn’t go to church anymore, I desperately wanted my son to grow up with the same morals and values I learned as a child. I wanted him to know right from wrong and to steer clear of the evils that I saw building in this world. I wanted to protect him as any mother would, and knew that finding the right church would be good for him. And maybe me too.
My husband and I began the lengthy discussion of what kind of church we were going to try. We were Christians, but we didn’t want to go to either of our previous denominations. They just felt too structured. Too “religious” for us. They weren’t the right fit. We heard rumors of some churches with strange rituals and practices. We noticed that some churches were for much older people and didn’t have a children’s program. We felt some churches were too strict with their beliefs, while others were too lenient. And just when all hope was as lost as we were, a friend invited us to attend a nearby church with him and his wife. Of course I looked into it immediately, finding out that it was an Evangelical church, and at this point in our search, to say I was a bit skeptical of this church would be a major understatement. Is this another cult church? Would they make me bring more people to church to stay in “good standing”? Would I have to drink the Kool-Aid? I went in with every preconceived notion of this church and held my breath through the entire service.
In all honesty, it was the music that got me. Music calms my soul and brings me to a place of peace like nothing else. And while the music I experienced in this theatre-turned-church was loud and fast, the melody and lyric sang to my heart. I glanced at my two year old son, hoisted in the protective arms of his father, and smiled his attention was firmly locked in the music and melody as well. He loved it here. I thought it was okay too. The pastor seemed friendly. There were no customary prayers, or pews with the drop down kneeling pads. There was a comfortable rhythm to the service and a part of me opened up to the idea that I was meant to be here.
As I participated in my first communion at this particular church a few weeks later, I admit there was a slight bit of fear as the trays of bread and juice were passed amongst the congregation. It wasn’t the possibility that it was a brainwashing serum, or perhaps all of us would drop dead at that point and then become the latest news story. (Have I mentioned I’d been watching way too many religious cult documentaries?) Rather, it was a little more personal. For me, communion was a commitment. It was a statement to God that I had returned. And while I was just returning in the flesh, and not quite yet in spirit, I was filled with shame. I was the prodigal daughter who took what I had and left. I wanted nothing to do with where I came from and who I came from. I wanted the life in the city. The life of fun and little responsibility for my actions. But it was no longer about just me. I had nothing left of my own life. And now I felt the Father calling me back. But no fanfare, I pleaded silently. This is just between me and God. No one else. Not even my husband. There was so much more work in me to be done.
With a deep breath, I took the cube of bread and held the tiny plastic cup, wiping a tear away quickly before anyone noticed. And as I partook in the elements, as I broke the piece of bread in my fingers, as the sweetness in the cup touched my parched lips, I crossed the threshold, and I was home.
Next Up on the Blog: The Prodigal Daughter Returns
Forgoing the feast and celebration, I quietly make my peace with the Father.
SUBSCRIBE! Subscribe by email to get the latest posts as they come out. It’s simple, safe, and fun! New posts will be sent to your inbox for you to read when you want to! No need to keep checking the website or Facebook for updates. (Chances are Facebook wouldn’t let you know anyway! They’ve been mysteriously hiding blogpost updates….) Also, subscribers will soon start getting some bonus goodies from me! Stay tuned!